Lifestyle

Aside From That Whole Porn Thing, Are Those Free Wi-Fi Kiosks Even Good?

Published On 09/15/2016 Published On 09/15/2016

The latest indication that New Yorkers can't have nice things? LinkNYC, the company behind those fancy, free Wi-Fi-equipped kiosks that you've definitely never used, has been forced to remove web-browsing capabilities because people just could not stop watching porn and masturbating on the sidewalk. 

OK, OK, so ignoring the fact that New Yorkers can't be trusted with web browsing... without that capability, what's the point in these things, right? First of all, please relax, it's very weird to get this worked-up about a kiosk. Second of all, here's everything you need to know about these porn magnets, including whether or not they're actually even good.

First of all, what are these things?

Remember pay phones? Those things that you probably never actually used to place a phone call but definitely watched someone pee on? Since February, the city has been phasing those out in favor of "Link" kiosks (part of the "LinkNYC" network), which house free, Wi-Fi-equipped tablets (TBD on whether or not pee is still a factor). The city plans to launch over 7,500 of them across the five boroughs in the next few years, and 400 are currently installed in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens.

OK, so what can you get out of them?

The biggest draw of these kiosks is that they offer high-speed Wi-Fi, charging ports, phone calls (within the US), a 911 Emergency Call button, and maps and directions -- all for free. They've also been offering web browsing... until today.

Wait, so what happened to the web browsing?

I know: you live to browse the web!!! But here's the thing about putting a free web-browser-equipped tablet on the streets: people are going to watch Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day on repeat!!!!! Just kidding, they're going to watch porn.

Repeated incidents of people casually watching porn on the sidewalk has led LinkNYC to shut off the web browsers, effective September 14th. So if you ever actually wanted to watch Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, or check to see if your ex is still ranked higher than you in your LinkedIn network, you can no longer do that! 

A spokesperson from Mayor de Blasio's office told Gothamist, "There were concerns about loitering and extended use of LinkNYC kiosks, so the Mayor is addressing these quality-of-life complaints head on. Removing the internet browser from LinkNYC tablets will not affect the other great services LinkNYC provides -- superfast Wi-Fi, free phone calls, or access to key City services - but will address concerns we’ve heard from our fellow New Yorkers."

The Times also reports that removing the web browsing is a "temporary solution while [LinkNYC] consider[s] permanent changes, including limiting how long people can use the tablets."

OK, but aside from all this porn business, were/are these things even safe to use?

LinkNYC says that it will not sell your personal information to anyone, and only collects data from users to "make the system more efficient and to develop insights to improve your Link experience."  You're required to enter your email address when you use the kiosk for the first time. That's so they can send you information about updates to the service -- they claim they don't sell email addresses. LinkNYC also notes that it'll "generate anonymized and aggregate data... to inform advertising" on the kiosks, but that ads are not targeting individuals. 

As the New York Times notes, you're taking a risk anytime you use a public Wi-Fi network, but the kiosks do offer a "LinkNYC Private network" that can be joined if you have a compatible device (you can find that list here). This is a safe, "encrypted network connection between your device and the hotspot," according to LinkNYC. And you don't have to worry about data from your phone getting snatched from the kiosk -- the USB outlet only functions as a power source.

And just so I can feel really bad about myself... how fast is that Wi-Fi, really?

Probably faster than your at-home Wi-Fi that it took you 57 separate Time Warner calls to even get set up. According to LinkNYC, the kiosks' gigabit Wi-Fi is up to 100 times as fast as most public Wi-Fi and your cellphone's LTE network. Back in January, Gizmodo reported that it is, in fact, "insanely fast." And the good news is you can still use it!! You just can't watch porn outside on East 66th and 3rd. 

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Lucy Meilus is Thrillist's New York editor and will 100% never use one of these, porn or no porn. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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